Congressional Agency Predicts War Costs Will Climb

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will cost U.S. taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade, no matter how quickly U.S. troops are reduced in those countries over the next few years, according to a report released this week by the Congressional Research Service (CRS).

The Bush administration and Congress have allocated $577 billion to the conflicts through the end of the current fiscal year, but that amount is only a small down payment, the report suggested in examining the impact of various deployment scenarios.

If today's troop level -- roughly 180,000 -- is cut by 85 percent by 2010 and remains at that level through 2017, the total cost of the two conflicts would be an additional $472 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office figures. If U.S. troop deployments were cut more gradually -- to 75,000 soldiers, or by about 60 percent, by 2013 -- the additional costs would be nearly $600 billion. Keeping troops at that level for five years beyond that would cost $300 billion more, the report said.

The report points out that the costs of the Iraq war in particular have been increasing rapidly with this year's expected tally of $135 billion amounting to a 40 percent increase over 2006. It notes that the average cost of a single U.S. soldier in Iraq last year was $390,000, up 22 percent from the $320,000 it cost in 2003.

Some of the increase is attributed to the expansion of military operations even before the troop buildup began. Between 2004 and last year, annual operating costs grew from $43 billion to $60 billion -- partly because of an extra billion dollars worth of body armor and other protective gear and $4 billion to pay for higher oil prices, $4 billion for equipment maintenance, and $2 billion for enhanced intelligence and communications.

The buildup is likely to cost about $5 billion for more troops and the Navy's additional deployment in the Persian Gulf, plus $2 billion in transportation costs. Procurement of war equipment is also up from $23 billion in 2006 to $45 billion in 2007, reflecting an October 2006 guidance statement by Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon R. England to purchase for the "longer war on terror."

In presenting the estimates, the CRS said it encountered difficulties in projecting costs because the Defense Department has supplied few specific details on how war funding is being spent and past supplemental funding often was mixed with money from the services' regular budgets.

The CRS notes that the Bush administration has budgeted only $50 billion for the wars in its fiscal 2009 projection and nothing for the eight years after that, despite provisions in the law that require long-term estimates. Two years ago, Joshua B. Bolten, then director of the Office of Management and Budget and now White House chief of staff, wrote then-House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) that there were "too many uncertainties" to make such projections.

Although the U.S. plan is to bring U.S. forces back from Iraq, the CRS report notes President Bush's plan to add 92,000 personnel to the Army and Marine Corps by 2012. The planned addition, the CRS report says, "appears to assume that the United States needs to be able to deploy substantial numbers of troops on a permanent basis."

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